One of the most common phrases I hear believers say is that we are made for the glory of God. True enough. But it wasn’t until I started writing — after many hours of prayer, Bible study, and research — that I realized that the meaning of this truth is not as clear to many as I had assumed.
I reached out to my readers and social media followers to ask them what they think it means to be made for the glory of God. Their answers were as revealing as my experience. Most of them simply said, “It is praising God,” which is good, but not sufficient.
So, what does the glory of God mean? Let us begin with Scripture.
In Exodus, the nomadic people of Israel enjoyed the privilege of God’s abiding and often visible presence. He led them through the desert with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 13:20–22; 14:19–24). The word Shekinahbecame a domestic word for describing God’s radiant presence — what we would today call His glory. Later on, Moses received the two tablets that became the vivid expression of God’s presence among His people and the most sacred objects of the religious faith of the Jews. An ark was to be built in which the tablets would be reposed, following the specifications God gave, placed on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies.
When, for instance, the Philistines defeated Israel and captured the Ark of the Covenant, the dominant mood of the people was total despair. See the words of Rachel, who suddenly delivered her baby: “She named the boy Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has departed from Israel!’ because the ark of God had been captured” (1 Sam. 4:21). On the other hand, the psalmist’s profession, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold” refers to a people who were assured of God’s abiding presence among them when the Ark of the Covenant was secure (Ps. 46:11).
God’s glory, therefore, seems to be His manifestation or revelation to His people, whether as prefigured in the imagery of the pillars of cloud and fire or in the Ark of the Covenant.
Now let’s turn to the New Testament. The key insights are the words of the Savior in John 17 — His prayer to the Father:
I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made. I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. (John 17:4–6)
Jesus brought God glory by finishing the work the Father gave him to do — the work of salvation, which is embodied by belief in the fullness of divine revelation. The glory of God is the very identity of God, and Jesus in the fullness of revelation because He has revealed to humanity the character and identity of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s glory revealed. The disciples came to know in time that Jesus was the embodiment and revelation of God. “He who has seen me,” the Lord told Philip, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Given all of this, how can we glorify God? Let’s examine the Greek roots of the word glory for some answers.
The Greek word 6oξâζw (doxazo) is the verb used for “to glorify” in the Greek Scriptures. The noun form, 6óξα (doxa), means “glory.” The word was not originally a sacred concept; the writers of the New Testament incorporated it into the religious context, giving it a new and deeper meaning. Doxazo originally meant “to believe,” or “to have an opinion,” or “to suspect,” as in the impressions one might have of another person. Specifically, it was used in the affirmative sense of a good impression or opinion of someone, and not as much in the negative sense of a bad impression. Thus, doxazo is to express a high opinion of someone.
In the New Testament, the Apostles used the word to mean “to value highly,” “to exalt,” and “to magnify.” Although related to the secular Greek usage, it adds to the meaning by extending the appreciation beyond private opinions to outward expressions of admiration.
“To magnify” is an especially important new meaning, since it includes the idea of enlarging or enhancing the object or person. This is like zooming in on an image so that every line, contour, and color is clearer and more visible. Magnifying relates to visibility; exalting or extolling relates to praise. This is where the popular concept of glorifying God through praising Him or worshipping Him with words, hymns, liturgy, or instruments fits in.
Yet another vital meaning of the word doxazo, as used in the New Testament, is “to value highly.” This expresses the idea of a treasure in the heart, like the parable of the hidden treasure, where one will be ready to give up everything so as to possess what is highly valued.
These three nuances of meaning are contained in the word and will help us in our understanding of what it means to be made for the glory of God. The three senses also relate to the three great acts of responsible human behavior — words, thoughts, and actions. We can glorify God by exalting Him, magnifying Him, and valuing Him as our supreme treasure.
We exalt God with praise, with acknowledgment of His supreme majesty, with acts of gratitude, and with prayer. Praising and worshiping God avail much because, as Scripture says, the Lord is “enthroned on the praises of Israel” — that is, His people (Ps. 22:3). The best way to praise God is to offer Him the Son’s sacrifice of praise, which He offered to the Father for us all on the Cross of Calvary. Thus, the Eucharist is the apex of divine praise on earth.
Exalting God also entails talking about God — His words, His actions, and His beauty — as readily as possible. God should be frequently on our lips — more often than any other person in our lives. It is surprising to observe that even among believers, God is usually discussed only as a footnote. It’s unfortunate that even for some experts of Christian theology, too much time and resources are spent on the study of arcane speculations only distantly related to the source of the study — Christ the Lord. We leave the Christian core in pursuit of something less. It is like a husband who talks to others about everything other than his wife and her life and concerns. More often than not there is a correlation between the people you exalt and the people you talk about. This brings up the uncomfortable question: Do you think and talk more about God or yourself? What does this say about whom you exalt above all others?
We glorify God by magnifying Him — that is, by making Him more visible to others. In simple terms, to glorify God is to reveal Him to those we encounter and throughout our society. Whatever we do that does not reveal — or, worse, obscures — the holiness and goodness of God frustrates our primary goal. We are primarily made for God’s glory, to be His reflection in the world.
Reflections share visual or intellectual characteristics (such as when a writer pens a “reflection” on a topic) with the objects or persons or concepts they mirror. They resemble their origin, even if imperfectly, while pointing back to it. Put simply, reflections make visible what they represent.
This resembles the nature of sacraments: symbols and signs that point to and effect a deeper spiritual reality. The Church Herself has this sacramental nature because the “eternal mystery of the divine plan for the salvation of humanity was given its visible form as the Church, the new People of God.” The Church embodies God’s presence among men and at the same time is the sign of the eternal kingdom yet to come. Each member of the Church is a living temple of God, wherein God resides: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:19).
The Church is the assembly of God — the new people of God in Christ — and not simply an individual. She is therefore bigger and deeper than each of the individual members. But each member of the Church is integrally connected with the others, for we are one in Christ, members of His Body, the Church. Thus, the Church, as both a community of faith and as a collection of individual members, shows forth to the world the testimony of salvation, which has been won on Calvary. The Church by Her very nature magnifies God through worship, prayer, sacrifice, words, and good works among people.
Similarly, all that exists in the temporal order points to the source of its being — its originator, its Creator.
Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: “The world was made for the glory of God (Dei Filius, can. § 5: DS 3025).” St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things “not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it (In II Sent. I, 2, 2, 1),” for God has no other reason for creating than His love and goodness: “Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand (St. Thomas Aquinas, Sent. II, Prol.)” (CCC 293).
Two distinctions must be made here between rational created beings (i.e., humans and angels) and other creatures in the manner in which God is magnified. Although the world in all its beauty points to its Creator and thereby magnifies Him, and although the very existence of living plants and animals are a testimony of the eternal wisdom of the Creator, these created things do so without will or choice. Humans and humans alone, in the temporal order, are called to magnify the Lord with their will and choices. This happens, it turns out, in the very being of humanity — when the person is fully alive in love and faith and hope. As St. Irenaeus saint puts it, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
The beautiful baroque architectural masterpiece of the Arch-basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome reflects the intellect and spreads the name of Alessandro Galilei, the great eighteenth-century architect who designed it. So does Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, his imposing statue of Moses inside the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, and his masterpiece Pietà at St. Peter’s Basilica. And the baldacchino of St. Peter’s Basilica, a magnificent bronze canopy over the shrine of the Apostle Peter below the dome, reflects the mind and fame of Bernini. And in their own way the ancient pyramids of Egypt, the great stones of Ethiopia, and the artistry of the Benin sculptures reflect their makers. Each of these masterpieces in different ways gives us insight into the cultures from which they emerged, the genius of those generations, and the creative personalities who conceived of them. In the same way, God’s creation reflects and magnifies His nature.
There’s no better place in the New Testament to find a testimony to the glory of God than at the church in Antioch of Pisidia, when, through the witness of the early Church, the pagan world came to confess “these are Christians” because they follow the footsteps of Christ, their founder (see Acts 11:26). The lives of the early Christians made Jesus so visible that the Pisidians could see Jesus in the lives of the disciples — in their preaching, in their community life, in their prayers, and in their performance of miracles. The life of the creature has meaning in reference to its Creator. The creature simply cannot live its life to the fullest without revealing its Maker. Thus, our life is most fully lived when it more fully reveals Jesus Christ.
Valuing God as Our Highest Treasure
We glorify God by worshipping Him as our highest, priceless treasure. Nothing — nothing! — can compare to Him. Worship reminds us of our total commitment and loyalty to God, who does not share His glory with anyone else. If we value God as the highest treasure, He sets the standard for our appreciation of other lower values. We can then acknowledge His lordship (Matt. 6:9–13), submit to His Son (Phil. 2:9–11), participate in His work (Hag. 1:7–8), endure anything and suffer for His sake (1 Pet. 4:12–16), and be ready to offer our lives in martyrdom (John 21:18–19; Ps. 116:15).
Martyrdom (from the same Greek root word for “witnessing”) is the clearest evidence of one who treasures God above all else. If we really take God as our highest treasure, then nothing will ever take His place in our lives. In fact, we will be willing and ready to sacrifice everything, including our lives, for God’s cause.
The Benefits of Glorifying God
God has made us for Himself, and the glory of humanity is a society that glorifies God. When we glorify God, we become the best we can be and achieve harmony in a world ruptured by sin and wickedness. Otherwise, God’s name is made an object of scorn among people and the revolt against Him makes humanity the most vulnerable of all creatures. The result is conflict between a person and his neighbor, and between mankind and the natural world.
The story does not end this way for the person who has undertaken the life journey of faith. Instead, we experience joy and fulfillment as God is praised, worshipped, and magnified through us. Faith, by glorifying God, makes us the very best we can be.
The life of faith and the journey of faith are one and the same: humanity living the way God has made us to be, experiencing the joy of salvation in anticipation of blessed eternity. This is glory at its best.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter from Fr. Emelu’s Our Journey to God: An African Priest Explores the Power of Faith from Abraham to You, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.